I went into CD Projekt Red’s 48-minute Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay reveal absolutely ready to love it. As a fan of the Deus Ex series, I’m into the implications of the cyberpunk genre on gameplay. I’ve enjoyed the studio’s Witcher series. And according to the internet hype machine, the huge-budget adaptation of the pen-and-paper RPG is one of the titles you have to be excited about, or else you must hate games.
By the end of the demo, however, I had turned around 180 degrees on it.
Don't get me wrong: the demo's very impressive from a game development point of view. CD Projekt Red has built a huge and expansive futuristic city, full of bespoke bits of environmental and character design and populated by a surprising density of NPCs. A lot of people clearly worked a lot of hours to make this demo, and though it remains to be seen how current-generation consoles will handle it, it all looks very pretty.
It’s just all kind of...dull. Watch for yourself:
For one thing: the ideas in this game feel more iterative than revolutionary. The voiceover talks up its first-person perspective as if CDPR invented it, apparently ignoring the existence of Deus Ex, Bethesda games, and more. This mixture of techno-augmentation, shootouts, and choice- and playstyle-driven gameplay isn’t new - nor is the ability to drive around a virtual city. The only real innovation here seems to be the sheer depth of character customisation and breadth of choices in mission design, and that reflects production scale rather than new ideas. Plus: based on what we’re seeing here, and what's emphasised in the demo, it’s all about the guns, all about the gear, all about fulfilling a tech-head power fantasy. “Sweet: we just found a corpo tech rifle,” the voiceover says. Whoopdee-shit.
Furthermore, Cyberpunk 2077 is a mature and visceral experience. You can tell it is, not just because the voiceover tells you (as a nipple just peeks out from behind a shirt), but because of all the maturity. People call each other “cunts” and “bitches” seemingly more often than by name - you know, mature words. Once again, the voiceover describes its futuristic dystopia “where violence and oppression are the norm” as if it’s a novel or interesting idea - or if our current world isn’t on the edge of being that way anyway. There’s a lengthy bit in the video involving carrying around a naked, unconscious woman, complete with jiggle physics I’m sure the developers thought were subtle and tasteful. Juxtaposed with everything else in the video, it’s all deeply unpleasant, and instantly dated - like something dug up from the pages of an "edgy" ‘90s PC gaming magazine.
Which brings me to the big question: who is the target audience for this game? Who really wants to spend a hundred-plus hours in this grim, nasty world? CDPR’s Witcher games were similarly adult in tone, but you could also find beauty and humour and emotion around nearly every corner. The best open worlds have light and shade, and based on the - again - nearly hour-long slice of gameplay CDPR produced to represent its game, Cyberpunk 2077 is all shade. Perhaps the target audience for this misanthropic techno-dystopia is people who would like to live in a misanthropic techno-dystopia themselves. Frankly, they're welcome to.
Where’s the fun here? Where’s the escapism immersive RPGs are known for? Failing that, where's any new take on the cyberpunk genre? CD Projekt Red has convinced me they can make a gorgeous-looking game - they’d convinced me of that before I saw a frame of Cyberpunk. But seeing the game in action, it looks like a long, tough slog - no matter how shiny the guns are.
Maybe Cyberpunk 2077 will seem more enjoyable once the full array of activities and quests and characters is revealed. I'd certainly hope so, given the clearly massive amounts of money and developer talent going into the game. But this is what the marketing team’s selling right now, and right now, I ain't buying. Convince me otherwise, team.